Am I The Bolas? - Disagreeing with Power Level

Mike Carrozza • May 22, 2024

Simian Spirit Guide by Lucas Graciano

Hello, and welcome to Am I the Bolas?

This column is for all of you out there who have ever played some Magic and wondered if you were the bad guy. I'm here to take in your story with all of its nuances so I can bring some clarity to all those asking, "Am I the Bolas?"

I'm ready to hear you out and offer advice. All you have to do is email! You might see your story in the column. You might even hear it on the podcast. Which podcast? 


I'm Mark Carbonza, and I think I understand what's happening here...

It's like that other card, but it's different!

This week, when you've got all the cards to pick from, will that change you? 

(Post edited for brevity, clarity, and I did a little something with the punctuation.)


Hey Mike,

My playgroup plays mostly through an online simulator that gives us access to the full legal card pool of Commander. For a long time, there weren't any issues since none of us were interested in cEDH and we could all agree that games are just more fun when there's sufficient back and forth instead of "who can turbo out their three-mana, two-card infinite combo first?"

In the last year or so, though, we have managed to convince some other longtime friends of ours to join us when playing Commander, and these friends have realized, because of the simulator we use, that there are no explicit barriers to using the best cards in the format. Ostensibly, we have our lines drawn at "no cEDH", "no infinite combos", and "no hard stax", with everything else just about being fair game.

The problem is, even with these rules, I think our games are still too high-powered. Mana Crypt, Chrome Mox, and ABUR Duals have become staples in every deck. One of my friends in particular runs Simian Spirit Guide and Elvish Spirit Guide in every Gruul deck they have. I've had important creatures stolen from me by Gilded Drake, a card I didn't even know existed until it was used against me, and there have been multiple instances of people dumping a hand full of mana rocks, getting their commander out turn one, and nobody being able to do anything about it.

So I ask you: am I the Bolas for not enjoying the power level we agreed on? Admittedly, I haven't spoken to anyone else to get their thoughts on our games, and it's not like there's anything stopping me from jamming Crypt/Lotus/etc. either besides my own personal feelings about the cards.

Yours truly,

My Deck Isn't A 7

01101000 01101001, MDIA7!

Howdy, My Deck Isn't a 7! Thank you for writing in. Without people like you writing in, there is no column, and I can't thank you enough. I appreciate your submission a ton. If you, the reader, have a story you would like to share with me to discuss or you spot a Reddit post somewhere and you think ol' Mikey would have a time writing up, send it over to

Let's talk about having access to all the cards in the history of the game at your fingertips and how that can affect the deckbuilding experience. 

I appreciate that your playgroup began its journey together by saying "no cEDH", "no infinite combos", and "no hard stax".  Having rules for the playgroup that everybody agrees with is a good place to start. Let's break it down. Hard stax and infinite combos are pretty well identifiable. Stasis? Hard stax! Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker + Pestermite? Infinite combo. Easy! But what about Syr Konrad, the Grim and Mindcrank? Not necessarily infinite, but would this qualify? Is Blind Obedience on the no-no list? 

Saying no cEDH will do away with Demonic Consultation + Thassa's Oracle, which is good if that's what you're after, but what about lesser-known cEDH tech and lines? I've also been thinking about this for a little while: since it isn't its own format, ostensibly, cEDH is a way of playing Commander. It can be argued, as cards become more and more powerful, cEDH vs. casual Commander becomes more a matter of vibes. Are you playing to win with your deck and making all the optimal plays? If I sit at a table and my deck is bad, but I'm playing it at a cEDH pod... buddy, that's just a bad, bad, bad cEDH deck. My intention makes it cEDH, no?

This is something that actual cEDH players might take offence at, or maybe something is clicking, I'm not sure. I have casual decks that, if played optimally, can hang with competitive decks though they'll be missing key ingredients. If I sit at a table with three other cEDH decks then, are we all of a sudden playing a game of casual Commander just because I'm there? Sure, there's a lot that goes into the deckbuilding process, but I'm illustrating the point here that "no cEDH" is a vague rule.  I digress. 

All this to say that it's good to set up parameters for your games and your playgroup will agree in essence but nothing will line up perfectly. The only way to really make sure some cards don't get played is to implement house rules or even a custom ban list. Is that the route to take? 

What I tend to see with a lot of submissions is this proverbial arms race within a playgroup: somebody starts spending to upgrade their deck, the Mana Crypt hits the table and makes a difference and the Demonic Tutor smooths out the plays; how do we keep up? Without a budget requirement or more specific rules, having access to all the cards in the pool will subconsciously allow the rest of the group to meet each others' level. 

More specifically, if nobody is explicitly speaking up against the power level rising, the players will do what they can to keep having a good time at the table. 

For example, Simian Spirit Guide or Elvish Spirit Guide aren't splashy cards, but they were stars of competitive decks in other formats and, while I'm not a cEDH guy, I'd assume that they find their way into decks that optimize their game. They aren't particularly exciting, but they are free mana! And that's kinda crazy, right? I would agree with you bringing them up in this conversation to highlight that the overall competitiveness of the playgroup has risen. But if nobody says anything about it...

As with many, many, many entries in this column and stories on the podcast, it comes down to two things: Vibes, and having conversations with your playgroup or pod. Clarity is your best quality while communicating with your playgroup. It should be a safe space to declare, "Hey, Mana Crypt is a little too rich for my blood here," or even, "I think it's fine for us to begin running Mana Crypt."

When you're making agreements, those terms should be clear. If it's, "Yeah, we can run Mana Crypt," but you mean, "Run Mana Crypt but only if it serves the theme of the deck or if the commander is seven or higher mana value," you aren't clearly communicating parameters you're interested in or comfortable with, and if there's pushback, be ready for this. You won't always get what you want. Propose compromises you'd be happy with: budget leagues, house bans, meeting their power level for a game or two. But if you don't find any and you don't feel happy with it, you can express that, and I'm sure the discussion that follows can be kind and inclusive of your wants and needs from the game. 

Are you the Bolas for being put off by the power of the pod rising? I'd say no. 

As mentioned above, the only thing left to do is to have a conversation with your friends. Let them know that, while it's not necessarily going against the rules of the group, it most certainly seems to go against the vibe of what the rules were going for initially. But if they disagree and want to keep going with this level, then what? That'll be up to you!

Not the Bolas! Thanks for writing in!

Mike Carrozza is a stand-up comedian from Montreal who’s done a lot of cool things like put out an album called Cherubic and worked with Tig Notaro, Kyle Kinane, and more people to brag about. He’s also been an avid EDH player who loves making silly stuff happen. @mikecarrozza on platforms